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Disabled Decry Abuse of Their Civic Rights

by Jean de la Croix Tabaro
1:19 pm

Jean Bosco Maniriho

 Jean Bosco Maniriho 38, a husband and father of two from Musanze district, Muhoza sector tells his story of mental disability which started sixteen years ago, as if it happened yesterday.

Maniriho was concluding his ordinary level(Senior 3) when he started feeling uneasy.

A brilliant student with highest score in of his class since Primary, he did not understand what the problem could be, until the neighbors, including schoolmates started chasing him away.

“I was suffering from terrible headache, but people looking at me had mixed reaction on my case. Security officers started saying that I was pretending because I used to address everyone in good English. They said I had turned a spy, pretending to be mad,” Maniriho recalls.

He mentions a case of a sector executive officer who arrested him and got him handcuffed in custody for three days, without his family knowing his whereabouts.

In all this however, Maniriho found a breakthrough and went to Ndera Psychiatric hospital and he was put on medication.

“When I follow medical prescription, I am a normal person like you and others here. My challenge is when people say that I am a mad person, or when they bit me up, in the name of correcting me. That makes me pick a crisis,” Maniriho testifies.

A panel of discussions

Maniriho spoke during a workshop on inclusive political participation of persons with psycho-social disabilities in Kigali, February 23.

He said that the medication found him having already been labeled as a thing, not a human being in his neighborhood with people calling him a useless person.

The only place where he thought he could find solace, was at church. He went to find his pastor and requested him to bless his marriage so as to get the love of his life to help him through.

“I became bitter when my own pastor and the church said that they could not bless a marriage against a mad person,” he recalls.

The wife accepted to marry him without the “blessing” of the church and they started a journey of love together.

Maniriho defied all odds and started a business of selling shoes, and succeeded. He bought a plot of land in Musanze and built a family house now estimated to Rwf 20 million value.

“I am way better than my neighbors who call me a mad person. They even envy me,” he said.

Despite all this however, Maniriho has never exercised a civic right of choosing his leaders during any election whatsoever.

“At 38 years, I don’t know how a voter ID looks like, nor did I ever see a ballot paper. By the way, during elections, people try their level best to prevent me from arriving at polling station,” Maniriho said.

His case is shared by many people with mental disability who belong to the National Organization of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry in Rwanda.

During their workshop, February 23, several presentations indicated that the society segregates them and prevents them from, among others, exercising their rights to vote while taking them as precarious persons.

NOUSPR members have a problem, first of all with the society which thinks that they are people who cannot be trusted and cannot be allowed to give their opinion, including in voting.

While they believe that a person with psychiatric disability is a normal person especially when they are under medicine, they suggest that there is no way they can be excluded in political space.

For Niyibizi, it is unfair to prevent people with disability from voting, while forgetting that some of them got the disability during for example, liberation struggle, others during the Genocide against Tutsi or any other incident.

Aurelie Gahongayire, Commissioner at National Commission of Human Rights in charge of people with disabilities told KT Press, that rights to vote and to be voted makes no exception.

“The people with mental disability have that right as far as they do not have any impediment in exercising it. Leaders at all levels and the general population should allow them to exercise their rights with no excuse,” Gahongayire said.

“We still have a long way to go, but we are hopeful because at the level of the law, there is that protection of people with disability, and there is a structure of leadership of people with disability which enables advocacy.”

Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission has put in place an organ of volunteers from national to cell level, who are in charge of monitoring the progress of human rights for children and people with disability to make sure that none is left out.

Rose Umutesi

Rose Umutesi, the President of NOUSPR said that the person with mental disabilities face violence in all corners.

“We face beating, they lock us in houses, they handcuff us and call us trash, and what should I say? We also face sexual violence which results in children whose fathers are not known,” Umutesi said.

“There should be special provisions for people with mental disabilities; the law should provide how a person with this kind of problem can have their opinions accepted instead of being considered as not serious.”

For Umutesi, it should be clear that a person with mental disability is not a person who is permanently sick. Thus, they should be given an opportunity to serve the country.

The law is not silent about this case of people with disability in voting.

The amended organic law governing elections  in Rwanda, August 2023, provides in its article 2, paragraph c, about Person temporarily disqualified from registering on the voters’ register. The paragraph prevents registration for any person who disrupts the tranquillity of the place of registration on voters’ register.

However, this disruption should be recorded in a statement.

As for being voted, the same law provides for eligible persons who can be elected on different posts. It provides in its article 7, paragraph i, that a person wishing to be elected must “not be suffering from a mental illness which would prevent him or her from fulfilling the responsibilities relating to the office to which he or she wishes to get elected.”

Their workshop happened as the country prepares for the presidential and parliamentary elections of July 2024. Umutesi believes that they also should be given an opportunity to choose the next president of Rwanda.

Dr Mukarwego Beth Nasiforo

Impediment in political inclusiveness is not exception of people with mental disabilities. The chairperson of National Union of Disabilities’ Organisations of Rwanda (NUDOR) Dr Mukarwego Beth Nasiforo said that their community faces several challenges when it comes to voting.

“Some people do a long journey to polling station despite their disabilities, and guess what! When they reach, they are not facilitated to vote,” Mukarwego said.

“Those with vision disabilities were given braille, but some do not know how to use it. They are asked to bring a child to vote for them, but the polling agents can corrupt them.”

For this leader, the society should not put people with mental disability in the same basket.

“They should know to differentiate the type of crisis of people with mental disabilities and know that many of them can contribute to country development,” she said.

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